Fort Pickett offers engineer project opportunities

Soldiers from the 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion prepare to install a culvert June 25, 2013 at Fort Pickett, Va. The engineers worked to improve roads and install new culverts along Fort Pickett’s roadways during their two-week annual training period. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion prepare to install a culvert June 25, 2013 at Fort Pickett, Va. The engineers worked to improve roads and install new culverts along Fort Pickett’s roadways during their two-week annual training period. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va — Constant dust and noise coming from Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center from the past year are not just “loud booms” from cannon fire, but sounds of progress.

Construction contractors, employees and military engineers have been building and renovating over 53 buildings, roads and training areas throughout the more than 42,000-acre facility. Crews have been demolishing structures that are outdated or no longer required, renovating 1940s era barracks, upgrading and refurbishing dining facilities and incorporating advanced environmental controls over the past year.

Fort Pickett’s Directorate of Public Works has worked tirelessly to identify, evaluate, design, bid and award a staggering number of construction contracts, totaling 75 projects during 2014 valued at more than $2 million.

Already, scheduled construction at Fort Pickett will reach nearly $1 million during 2015.

However, as the needs for fiscal efficiency and resource conservation increases due declining resources, DPW continued to look for alternative measures to reduce costs.

“It was extremely important to find ways to leverage existing resources to meet our expanding requirements,” said Lt. Col. Chrystor Atkinson, director of public works, Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center.

“The best place to look was staring at us every morning in the mirror—the military,” explained Atkinson. “The military has thousands of engineers with the required skill sets to do all sorts of construction.”

Capt. Michael Schaeffer, deputy director of public works, started pulling project ideas after talking with the garrison command, tenant organizations, as well as from the stack of non-priority projects.

“I took a look at what Army engineers were trained to do, then I started thinking about the kind of projects that my Soldiers would want to do, then I put them down on paper,” explained Schaeffer.

Atkinson and Schaeffer took that piece of paper to the next level when they started to load projects into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Reachback Engineer Data Integration portal becoming the first Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center to use the system.

The REDI system provides a common database, a robust user interface and fully integrated mapping tools for receiving, managing, tracking and archiving all data and engineering reach back support conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The REDI portal allows users to submit requests for information, receive updates and track status of requests. Users can also search the historical database and request support for other USACoE capabilities.

Using the Army Facilities Components feature, users can search world-wide for engineer projects or zoom into a geographical area using the interactive map feature to locate projects.

“I got the idea from reading the bottom of someone’s email,” Atkinson said. “I saw this link and clicked on it and started navigating around—I was blown away, this is the bomb. I called the site administrator and saw that a lot of the data was wrong, so I started updating units, locations and started inputting projects.”

“The REDI site provides a single-source database for uploading and downloading all kinds of projects,” said Atkinson. “You can query by geographic area, by state, or type of construction or type of equipment to find a project for your unit to complete.”

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard's Fort Pickett-based 157th Engineer Platoon (Quarry Detachment) crush rock May 24 to be used for range improvement projects around the installation. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 157th Engineer Platoon (Quarry Detachment) crush rock May 24 to be used for range improvement projects around the installation. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“The website is also a two-way street,” explained Atkinson. “I can look out nation-wide and see where the different units are and what kind of projects that they may be interested in doing.”

Atkinson, Schaeffer and the team started identifying and building projects in Nov. 2014 and have fine-tuned the process so much so that they now upload new projects every week.

“The first step in our process is to take a look at our day-to-day operations,” Atkinson explained. “Sometimes we get backlogged, sometimes we don’t have the time to get to that project right now and those are great ones that we can throw on the pile.”

“We also have a great resource at Fort Pickett, in that we have so many engineers—I have carpenters, electricians, and plumbers on staff– here that can look around and tell me when they think they have a project that would be perfect for a unit,” said Atkinson.

“The second step is probably the most important one: environmental and real property management review,” Atkinson said. “Everything we do has some kind of environmental impact, each project has to be vetted with our environmental office to make sure what we are doing won’t impact the environment. These kinds of assessments can take up to a year. Every project is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

“The last step is uploading the project,” Atkinson said. “Once we have the environmental piece back and the real property evaluation completed, we can publish this project on the website and start coordinating with units.”

“We have roads that need to be graded or re-crowned, culverts that need to be installed, electrical and plumbing retrofitting, pretty much everything that a military engineer is trained to do, we have a project to match,” Atkinson said. “What’s even better, is that the website allows us to upload a very generic scope of work for each project, which allows us to custom tailor each project to meet the training needs of the supporting unit.”

“I think we could craft projects for any engineer unit that comes to Fort Pickett to meet their training needs,” Atkinson said.

“Within the Army’s engineer regiment, there exists two thoughts of engineer training; one that focuses solely on training, missions and deployments, the other which focuses around facilities engineering and civil works,” explained Atkinson. “I think we can merge these two things together and improve the effectiveness of the green-suit side of the engineer regiment.”

“Years ago, we were able to custom build a project set for the 505th Engineer Battalion, 130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, North Carolina Army National Guard,” explained Atkinson. “We did some homework beforehand, we got with their [operations officer] and took at a look at what they needed to train on and built projects, so that when I went down to brief their battalion commander—they couldn’t say ‘no.’”

“Ideal projects last seven to nine days in duration so that the units can complete their mandatory unit training,” explained Schaeffer.

“We have a lot of your basic vertical and horizontal construction projects,” said William R. Helton, project coordinator, DPW. “We also have a lot of specialty projects, like well-drilling or quarry projects.”

Fort Pickett is home to one of the only active and one of the only training quarries available for military quarry units.

“Quarry units can come here and crack rock, haul it to our projects sites and meet their job-specific training requirements all at the same time,” said Atkinson.

“There’s buildings that need complete electrical and plumbing retrofitting, roads that need to be graded, culverts that need repair and then there’s range buildings that need new doors hung,” said Atkinson. “There are projects that can challenge all levels of experience, from novice to skilled tradesmen.”

“We’ve built partnerships with Marines, Navy Seabees, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard units—even quartermaster and pipeline companies have an equipment sections that completed projects,” said Schaeffer. “Fort Pickett is great in that there is so much variety and so much space, that we can pretty much do any type of project.”

Beginning next year, Atkinson plans to load projects at Camp Pendleton, Collective Training Center, Virginia Beach, Va., onto the REDI system, so that units can complete a variety of projects in a different environment.

“We realize that from our seat, that there is a ‘cost of doing business,’” Atkinson said. “We have got to provide the [Bill Of Materials], maybe additional fuel to get the mission done or something like that. Let’s say that we have a haul mission and there’s a unit out there that trains to do haul missions—they can do this stuff for us, we get to maximize our limited resources and they get some really good, hands-on training. It’s a win-win.”

Five units have already downloaded and accepted projects at Fort Pickett using the REDI system.

“I look at it as one nail driven, is one nail less that we don’t have to drive,” Atkinson said.

More information about REDI can be found here.

High resolution photos of engineer projects at Fort Pickett can be found here or here.

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